View Full Version : Bell tone
Imagine, I did a search, and didn't find one subject line that matches this one.
--what is "it"?--
What mandolin have you played, or made, with the ideal bell tone, to you?
Anyone care to share sound clips to go with their ideas?
Also, would you care to comment on the contribution of that oft-used attribute, "dry"? (and what the heck is the opposite of "dry" anyway?
I thought this thread would be about a Belltone mandolin.
The opposite is wet, and they're terms I usually associate with the sound of accordions, but carrying the metaphor to fretted instruments isn't so far-fetched. A wet sound has lots of overtones and partials beside the main signal of the note. A dry sound has less of that "breadth", which is not an indication of volume at all, just the complexity of the note. Some of this overtone signature is exclusively about the string itself, including the condition of that string, and some is about the instrument. And much in the head of the listener too, of course.
The most bell-like tone I've ever heard from a mandolin came from a 70's metal-bodied OMI Dobro-style mandolin. Small wonder considering it's basically all metal. If I hear bell-like in wooden instruments, it's on carefully plucked fresh open strings, which gives you the richest sound and the most sustain.
Bell tone...usually associated with red spruce mandolins. German spruce would be way on the other side...basically what Paul is talkinng about.
I agree-- I often use the term complex (many overtones) to describe the opposite of dry (fewer overtones), but maybe wet is a better term.
When I think of "bell tones" or bell-like sounds from a mandolin, I think of the sounds that I've heard from treble notes, the notes on the first and second strings upward of fret 10 or 12 or so, from what I consider really good sounding mandolins. Not shrill or strident, not weak or fading, but balanced with the rest of the mandolin in terms of volume, and with a round, full, ringing, bell-like sound. Find one with that, coupled with strong mids and basses, and 'you got yerself a manlin', in my opinion.
I associate "bell tone" with that distinctive "ring" produced by good vintage bowlbacks. It's not just the sustain or projection, but the, well, "bell tone." I'm fortunate enough to own each of the "Big Three" (Embergher, Calace, and Vinaccia)--they all have that distinctive sound, especially on the E and A courses, which I've not heard anywhere else . . . .closest to it, though, is a Lyon & Healy Style A. Not to say it's necessarily "better," just very different. Having said that, I'll also say that for my regular/concert/orchestra use, I generally prefer the carved tops (D'Angelico, Monteleone, 20s F4)--I love 'em, but they don't have the "bell tone" that I believe is inherent in the best old bowlbacks.
Matt in CA
I have heard the Weber Aspen I and II mandolins' sound as "bell-like", and I have said it myself. I am not sure it meant in the same way you folks are talking about. To me its that it has a very different sound than the Gibson sound, a more bell like tone than my Gibson A2.
I love the difference.
I think the variety of interpretations of what "bell-like" means shows how enigmatic a term it is. What do a bowlback, a Weber Aspen, an OMI Dobro and a piece of red spruce have in common tonally? Not much, I think. I went to a huge temple bell museum in Beijing (scroll down a bit) (http://www.lutherie.net/china3.html) once, and noticed that all the bells there sounded different. Some went clunk, some rang for a day. None sounded mandolin-like.
It's the overtone series saying, "HEY LISTEN TO ME!"
My favorite example of a "bell-like tone" is from Clyde Curley's F-4 on the "Oxymorons" CD. There are sound samples at the link below.
That is some pretty awesome tone, Johnny.
So I'm stumped.. I fell in love with David Grisman's mandolin on Old and In The Way recordings some ten years ago, but in moderne tymes, it seems mandolins have changed -- or what is desired has changed. The word "dry" is touted as a "good thing" in modern bluegrass (the only genre I can name that really digs dryness, craves it), yet when I hear a "good" Loar f5, it sounds completely "wet" to me.
That's a good point about Loars, Brian. I notice the same thing, but I think it has a lot to do with who is playing. Monroe certainly got a 'dry' tone (as I define 'dry'), but John Reischman and Grisman get what I consider a 'bell tone.'
And, bell-like, or not, Johnny, I ordered that CD! Thanks for the link! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif
In the beer world "dry" is used as the opposite of "sweet", another frequently (ab)used tone descriptor. I think some folks fall in love with a particular adjective like "woody" and apply it to any mandolin they like the sound of. Cow bells sound nothing like church bells which sound nothing like mandolins. I think it's time we moved past these sorts of descriptions and compared apples to apples. "Monroe tone" or "Reischman tone" are pretty concrete and readily available for everyone to listen to and see what you mean. Tell someone that a mandolin sounds bell-like and they'll likely interpret it completely differently than you do.
"Monroe tone" or "Reischman tone" are pretty concrete and readily available for everyone to listen to and see what you mean.
I have two problems with that idea. First, it is bluegrass-centric. I have no idea what Reischman sounds like and while I am sure he is great, I have no great interest in finding out just to learn a new mandolin tone vocabulary. So that distinction would not help me or other non-bluegrassers at all.
Second, that kind of definition ignores that tone is more a function of the player than it is the mandolin he plays. So if Reischman played Monroe's mandolin, would his tone sound more like Monroe, or more like Reischman? My guess is he would sound more like Reischman, which means that kind of definition has no value in describing the mandolin's inherint tone.
I agree that the terms "woody" and "bell-like" are imperfect as descriptors, but at least they mean something that most of us can get our heads around. FWIW, I think the terms "sweet" and "dry" as applied to beer are imperfect also, but at least they help tell me what I want to order at a bar.
If I had to define a "bell tone", the only thing I could think of that reminds me of a bell would be a loud, long, initial sustain.
Like, Duh, and stuff...... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif
John Hamlett said it pretty well as it regards mandolins. That is the typical adjective most folks use when I hear that sort of tone. It is really not like a bell at all, but like ringing wood. When you hear that tone it is usually pretty great, and many folks wish their mandolins would sound like that.
The term "wet" ,as Paul mentioned reminds him of accordions, is very apt. Wet tuning of the reeds means that some of the reeds that make up a note are purposely adjusted slightly out of tune to cause beats as the note is played. Works for some harmonicas too.
I think a lot of sustain probably makes it more 'bell-like', at least the way I interpret it.
A good Sobell with new strings would be my idea of a 'bell-like' sound brom a mandolin.
Would anyone agree that "jangly" tone is complex/wet tone, and not dry at all?
there is a file on the Cafe MP3 section that, to me anyway, has a mandolin that I would describe as having a bell tone. In the Celtic section, "Paddy, Jenny, and the Boys" by Broder and Laval.
Would be interesting to compare our terminology on two somewhat opposing tones...
1. Celtic-Grass' recommendation (http://www.mandolincafe.net/mp3/broder.mp3)
2. Something a bit different (http://www.mandolincafe.net/mp3/macleod.mp3)
unleash the descriptors, folks.
Looks like we're headed for another 400 post, 3000 view thread...hopefully without trolls and fanboys. #Let's try not to lock this one up! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
The first time I heard the term bell-like was in reference to the trebles on Loars. As far as I could understand, it referred to the fundementalness of the treble tone. Have never heard of "bell like basses". What it has to do with bells, I couldn't tell ya, except maybe to my ears, bells sound very fundemental. #Far as I'm concerned, sustain has nothing to do with it. I have German and Italian spruce mandolins that ring till the cows come home. I would characterize Italian trebles to be piercing, and German very complex.
Now, I'm in agreement with Markish...this is an attempt to quantify something and apply labels. Well, my labels don't likely fit your ideas, and vice-versa...so let's just enjoy the conversation and have another # http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/coffee.gif
You could of course use the names of non-bluegrass performers to describe tone. Even if you don't have a good feel for Reischman's tone, you could find a recording pretty easily and we would be on level ground. My point is that I have no idea what you think a bell-like tone is. Saying "I heard an old mando in some store in South Dakota back in the 80s and boy it rang like a bell" doesn't help me understand what you heard at all. With the internet, we all have access to sound clips we could use to associate the words with sounds. Only you have access to the memories in your brain which fix what you think of as woody.
Maybe we could cook up an online tone glossary where we could get a bunch of sound clips and come to a consensus (:laugh: ) as to what words described their tone. Then we would not only be on the same page as to what means what, but we could even say "my new Dude sound just like Clip #923". Any volunteers?
I think of wet and dry in terms of reverb. A dry mandolin will decay short and a wet mandolin will sustain longer.
I think of bell like to be more in terms of the percussiveness or the crispness of the note when plucked. I think it can be applied to the bass as well it's just a bigger bell made of wood http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
FWIW, I think the terms "sweet" and "dry" as applied to beer are imperfect also, but at least they help tell me what I want to order at a bar.
I think some field work is called for. Gather some emperical evidence. I'll get the first round.
steve V. johnson
"Wet" and "dry" are indeed familiar terms to me in audio, with 'wet' generally meaning that the sound has more ambience around it (often derived from reverbs, delays, combinations of those two &/or other time-based effects), and 'dry' with less discernable ambience.
I liked Paul Hostetter's descriptions in the third post in the thread.
One time I was talking about instruments and sound with a guitarist who played Stefan Sobell guitars for many years. He said to me that he had worked very hard with Sobell to get a "dry" guitar sound, with a strong fundamental and few overtones, and with those overtones having a very quick decay.
This was really astounding to me, as I'd never heard anyone wanting those characteristics from an acoustic guitar before, and never expressed in such detail. (Call me naive...) He explained that his playing relied on crosspicking and he didn't want the overtones to ring on as he quickly changed chords.
Here in the Cafe I've heard mandolins, usually classic Loar-ish F-models, described as "dry," but I'm not sure if that's the same thing that the guitar player described.
One more thing... most of the bells I've heard (and we live near a carillon) have long sustain and rich and complex overtones...
I have always had a problem with describing the tones to a mandolin. When someone uses the term "complex" or "overtones" I think I understand....and when they say "dry" I think I do. To break this down even simpler, this is the way I look at it....Complex, or "wet" would be similar to hitting small wooden bells or blocks with a small mallet. "Dry" or "woody" would be the sound of a string being plucked over a cigar box. Extreme cases, I know, but would that be along the right track? And can anyone clarify further? And then you get into the question of balance across the strings...
On NPR radio the other day during station announcements around 5:30 the background music was a mandolin soloing and also the sound of someone ringing a bell. They usually play bluegrass clips as background, but a bell?
My bell sound is a clear note, just the pitch of the string. No other overtones or vibes.
Would be interesting to compare our terminology on two somewhat opposing tones...
1. Celtic-Grass' recommendation
2. Something a bit different
unleash the descriptors, folks.
OK-- I'll bite. To me, the first sounds bell like and the second sounds jangly. I wouldn't call either of these dry or woody.
Just my perception. no flames please.